Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Swim

The alarm on my phone went off at 4:45. I didn’t need it as I was already up, but that’s an entirely different story. Today was the day I had decided to retry the distance for the swim for the Pumpkinman Sprint Triathlon, coming up in less than 9 weeks. The swim is only .75 Km which is 750 Meters which is about 820 yards. Since I now know that the pool at the Whitney Ranch Aquatic Complex is 25 yards long, that translates to doing 33 lengths of the pool to go the distance.

I wasn’t in a hurry to get going. I took my time making sure I had everything I needed to shower and head straight to work after my swim. Its great that the pool opens at 5:00 on weekdays so that I can get my swim in in the morning. By the time I double checked that I had everything and made it out the door, the clock said 5:00.

It’s a short 3.1 mile drive to the center and for some reason I actually made all 4 of the lights with perfect timing – not having to stop at all. I grabbed my bag and headed into the building. The parking lot had 5 or 6 vehicles and it was still very dark outside.

I checked in at the desk and the person stationed there marked off 2 spots on my punch card. I have to say the use of the pools and the recreation facility next door are true bargains. I went into the locker room and put my bag, with my clothes in locker 430 and deposited my quarter and took out the key, knowing my belongings were secure.

I then walked out through the doors to the actual pool area and say that there were 7 people in the pool. 4 older individuals in the shallower end of the main pool and 3 swimmers in lanes farther down towards the deep end. I headed towards the deep end intending to simulate the environment of the open water swim as closely as possible by selecting a lane with a depth preventing me from standing on the bottom. I found a lane at the 6’6” mark, and put my towel and glasses on the chair near the open door, looking out towards the activity pool. I took off my watch and started the timer.

Knowing the timer was running I wasted no time. I turned towards the water, took the 3 steps to the edge and dove in. The water was plenty warm and no shock to my system. It welcomed me and I came up and started swimming towards the far end. It felt good to be in the water. I tried not to swim too fast and get winded. One thing I know is that I have terrible technique when it comes to swimming. I am not coordinated enough to do 3 things at once. I did my version of freestyle down the pool, trying to work on exhaling into the water and turning with my strokes to take in a breath.

As I said I am not coordinated and I have to consciously think about what I’m doing with my breathing as I’m moving through the water. As such I tend to forget to kick as well. I can usually manage 2 of the 3 required actions for swimming, but not all 3 at once. I can stroke and breathe (sort of) or I can stroke and kick with my head sown in the water. Its all 3 – stroke, kick and breathe that I have trouble with.

When I got to the far end of the pool I taped the wall and turned. I made it a point to not push off the wall nor hang on the wall at all in order to feel like I was in the middle of a lake. I swam back to the other end and had completed 2 lengths of the pool. I took a quick rest (only 5 seconds or so) and turned to swim to the other end of the pool. I continued struggle with my rhythm and coordination and I’m sure it was not a pretty sight! I was quickly getting winded as I wasn’t breathing properly and I know my water position was horrible with my feet dragging very low behind me in the water.

One thing I did discover is that I was much faster and felt better swimming on my back. It eliminated having to concentrate so much on my breathing and actually allowed me to catch my breath while making progress because I could kick and stroke at the same time. Of the 825 yard I did, I would say that at least 200 were done on my back. I got to the 16th length of the pool and I know I was actually significantly better than my last attempt (where I thought the 16 lengths were 800 not 400 yards) and I kept going. My rests were getting longer and I was spending more time swimming on my back, but I was determined to finish the needed distance.

20, 24, 28…I kept swimming. As I took my quick rest breaks, I noticed the sky was getting lighter out the windows. I continued until I hit the magic number of 32. I knew I just needed one more length of the pool. Determined to finish strong I turned and swam for the other end, putting my head down and actually kicking some. Of course this didn’t last long as I ran out of breath and had to go back to my horrible heads up style as I gasped for air. I did make it to the other end in a decent amount of time. I touched and then moved towards the ladder 3 lanes away. The others who had been swimming in those lanes had finished and gotten out during my swim.

I climbed up the ladder feeling the weight return to my body. That is one reason that I think I like swimming so much – I feel lighter movement is easier in many ways. I walked over to the chair with my towel, picked up my watch and pushed the stop button on the timer. I wondered how I had done and I struggled to focus on the numbers on its face: 42:25.

I had completed the required distance in just over 42 minutes. I was tired. My muscles had definitely felt the swim, but the majority of the effort had been done with my arms and not my legs. I realized that my legs felt almost nothing from the swim as I had used them so little during it.

I considered this a very successful swim. Sure I found out exactly how terrible of a swimmer I am technically speaking, I was pretty slow for the distance when looking at the times from the last Pumpkinman, and my eyes were really burning, but I had actually improved over my last effort. I had done the 400 yards in about 24 minutes. Realizing now that it was half the distance and if I double it I get 48 minutes for the required 800 yards. I had beat that time by over 5 minutes. It also gives me a true baseline for where my swimming skills are so I can measure my progress as I swim more and more.

Feeling pretty good I took my towel and glasses and headed into the locker room to get showered and dressed for work. I approached the locker and went to take the key out of the little insdie pocket of my suit that was supposed to keep it safe. I pulled the pocket out and there was no key in it. Thinking I might have mistaken where I put it, I checked the other 2 pockets on the outside of the suit to no avail. I no longer had the key to locker 430 and all of my clothes, phone, keys, etc were locked inside.

I went back out to the pool area and mentioned to the lifeguard that I was going to look for the key to my locker as I had lost it in the pool. He recommended I go talk to his boss who had a master key for all of the lockers. I tracked him down and explained the situation. He said he had to head over to the rec center next door where the master set of keys were and would be back in a few minutes. Not wanting to waste any time, I decided to head toward the lane I had been swimming in to see if I could see the key. I wondered aloud to the lifeguard if the key would float seeing as it had the orange plastic at one end. He said he didn’t know. As he was walking to the station at the far end of the pool (they were rotating positions as they tend to do every 15 minutes or so) he looked down and found a key on the floor.

Apparently my key hadn’t fallen out in the water, but when I was out of the water and walking over to the chair. I hadn’t noticed and no one else had walked through there since. Fortunately a potential disaster was avoided. I was also able to intercept the manager before he left the building as he was assisting an elderly lady into the pool before he left.

I then showered, dressed and was on my way to work by 6:20. The sun had just come up and it was a beautiful morning.

All in all it was a great swim with several lessons learned:

1) I need to really work on my swim technique
2) I can swim the required distance in a reasonable (for me) amount of time
3) Never trust the inner pocket
4) Goggles – I NEED GOGGLES

The last is due to the fact that my eyes have been bothering me for most of the day having swum without them this morning.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I finally got a taste of some climbing on my bike. It was both harder and easier than I expected. It was harder in that I ended up in my granny gear much sooner and for much longer than I had hoped ofr. It was easier in that having the granny gear to use didn’t absolutely kill my legs. I was thinking that after the ride I would be absolutely worn out, but that wasn’t the case. Sure I was tired and my legs were a little sore (and my “saddle area” even more sore) but I wasn’t the basket case I had feared I would be.

The ride itself ended up being an out and back of about 12.6 miles. I had created an event on Facebook hoping to attract several people to the ride. It ended up being just Mary and I, but that’s OK. I realized quickly after we started that I was much slower than she was and I know that would also have been the case with anyone else who might have joined us. I do thank you Mary for your patience and encouragement to make it to the top of the hill.

We started just about right at 6:00 and the sun came up shortly thereafter. The first part of the trail was along the old railroad line to the boulder dam so it was gentle curves and an easy slope heading up hill. I stated a bit fast and soon paid for the quick start when some of the steeper grades arrived. About 2 miles into the ride was a short downhill section with some wicked, tight turns. Had to be hard on the brakes, but it was fun. That’s when gravity stopped being my nemesis and was briefly my friend. Of course just after the short downhill the climb really started.

The downhill took us from the old railroad path to the drainage along US 93. The next few miles followed the drainage path uphill along the road. It was nice and paved, but there was actually a little water in a stretch and it wasn’t nearly as smooth as I would have thought. Whether from the water eroding it slightly, or maybe it was designed this way to disrupt the rushing water, there were like ripples in the concrete. It was through here that my granny gear became my only gear.

We stopped for a momentary rest and to get a drink a few times on the way up. I needed to catch my breath and get feeling back into my hands. Seems the bar across my palms without gloves isn’t a good idea since I tend to lean on them so much. It was a lot of work, but we eventually made it to the River Mountains/Historic Railroad trailhead and then up to the Bootleg Canyon trailhead. Just after this, making the turn up the hill I was feeling it. I voiced my opinion that I was about done. Mary encouraged me and said we were close to the top and it would be a shame to turn back now. I agreed and I put my head down and just keep my legs pumping, turning the crank. We passed several cyclists heading down and I couldn’t wait.

I once again caught up to Mary who was waiting by a bench at the top and she informed me that we had made it within 50 yards or so of the top. Silly me thinking it was going to be a lot of work on the way back suggested we turn around and head down. Obviously it was the doubt and the hill talking as I only pedaled on one short stretch the whole way back to the car. What had taken an hour and 20 minutes on the way up, took only 23 minutes on the way down. Looking back on it after the fact, I realized that I could have gone on and made it all the way to the Railroad pass casino as I had originally planned. You know what they say about hindsight being 20/20!

I truly expected to be hurting from the relatively long climb. It was by far the longest, hardest climb I had ever done. Surprisingly I wasn’t. Not Saturday evening. Not Sunday. Not even this morning when I got up and rode. I do have to say my climb on Saturday has given me a new appreciation for the flats. I even managed to ride my fastest average this morning - completing 10 miles in 42:27 which equates to 14.17 mph.

My plan is to complete the ride I had mapped out at least 4 times between now and Pumpkinman. Every other Saturday you’ll find me at 6:00 in the morning, getting on my bike and heading up the hill from the trailhead near the visitor center. As they say – the only way to get better at climbing is to climb, so that’s what I’m planning on doing.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Too Easy

I decided it was time to assess my current swimming ability, so I got up early last Friday and headed over to the Whitney Ranch Indoor Pool at 6:00 am. My thinking was I would jump in and start swimming to see how long it took me to do the 800 yards I would need for the Pumpkinman Sprint Triathlon. I took my watch (with its stop watch feature), got ready, hit the start button and started swimming. I did the first two lengths with no real problem and decided to take it easy. I rested after any length I felt I needed to and completed what I thought were the required number of lengths (16), got out, hit stop on the watch.

I then looked at the time and was amazed that it showed a shade under 24 minutes. Now, I had been looking at the results from last year's Pumpkinman, at the C4097 division in particular. For those who, like me until I looked it up, don't know what that means, it’s the Clydesdale (men over 200 lbs) division for men aged 40 to 97. In last year's sprint there were 11 competitors in this category. Their average time for the swim was 18:19, with the slowest swimmer coming in at 24:19. I thought to myself, boy, this is not bad at all! Here, I hadn't trained for the swim, took several rests and I still beat the slowest time from last year's event for my division.

I was feeling rather positive about my achievement and things were really looking up for the Triathlon if I could do that without training, I should be pretty competitive with it. There was still a nagging doubt, though that I was that fast.

To make a long story short, I finally called the pool, after searching futilely on-line for the length of the indoor pool and my fears were confirmed. I hadn't swum 800 yards in 24 minutes; I had swum 400 yards in 24 minutes! Seems the pool is only 25 yards long and not 50.

Very mixed emotions. I was truly thinking that I had a chance to be competitive in my division until that bit of information came my way. Of course, now I know that I do have a lot of training to do in the pool and lake to get where I want to be.

I do have a race “pace” in my mind, without actually completing the various parts of the course in "race mode." My pre-race thinking is that I hope to finish the swim in 30 minutes or less, finish the bike in around 1:30 or less, and cap it off with the run (ok more of a walk with some intermittent trotting) in about 50 minutes. Throw in around 10 minutes for transitions and I'm hoping to finish the event in less than 3 hours. Seems very reasonable to me, but I have been wrong before!

I have been focusing mostly on the biking portion since it’s the longest and right now, the most fun! From my short rides of late that included a bit of climbing, I feel that I’m in good enough shape right now to complete the bike within the 1:30 target I’ve set for myself. The swim is my current nemesis based upon my results from the pool. Right now I’m thinking its at least 50 minutes based upon my performance. This is where I need to focus over the next few weeks to see if I can’t make a huge improvement. So biking is going to take a bit of a backseat while I work on the swimming and the walking/jogging to see what improvements I can make.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Losing Weight

From the title of my blog, as well as just by looking at me, you would assume that this is something I’m doing. I joined Weight Watchers. I’m riding my bike and walking. You’d think I was, in fact losing weight right now. Well, to be quite brutally honest I'm not. In fact I’m betting I’ve gained 5 or 10 pounds in the last month or so.

I could come up with several excuses. I could try to lay the blame elsewhere, but it really does sit squarely upon my shoulders. I have made the choices in terms of what and how much I’ve been eating. I’m the one who hasn’t been doing all of the exercising I should be doing. I’m the one who gets home from work and sits on the couch like a lump and doesn’t get up and do anything.

Sure, I could blame it on the heat. I could say that I didn’t mean to overeat. I could blame it on the stress at home and my automatic response to the stress (which is to eat). Of course going to the various buffets in town 3 or 4 times a week doesn’t help. Neither does the fact that I have no idea how to control my portion size. Beyond all that, though the fact remains that I haven’t been doing what I need to do to continue the journey to a new, smaller and healthier me.

I have not gotten on a scale in 3 weeks now because I know what it will show. I’ve even stopped tracking things on the weight watchers website. I stopped when I started realizing I was going over my very generous points allowance on a daily basis. I started using up the weekly points and the activity points. I don’t think I ever totally blew my points, but I didn’t want to see that after having been so good about staying within my points, I wasn’t doing so good. I started thinking about “cheating” by not listing everything or as smaller portions. Then I realized that this wouldn’t be of any benefit. Sure the numbers on the site would look good, but I would be only cheating myself and that was pointless.

Part of my loss of focus is the fact the 2 weight loss competitions that I was competing in ended. The company’s Lose to Win and the corporate challenge Biggest Winner competitions did help to motivate me because it gave me that added accountability an dangled a “carrot” in front of me. Since they have ended I have lost some of my focus in that I have been looking more at the triathlon and not at weight loss. Of course if I were working harder at my triathlon training, the weight loss would probably follow.

There again is part of the issue – “probably follow.” I know if I am very conscious of what I eat, limit myself to what I know I should have on a daily basis, the weight loss will happen. All it takes it work and accounting for everything!

So I am here to let the world know that I am going to restart the weight loss and start to really focus on my eating as well as my activity so that I can shed more of the excess baggage I’ve been carrying around for a very long time.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Great ride!

OK, I finally rode outside my subdivision on Saturday morning and it was a great ride. Thank you Cyn for organizing a ride and remembering us newbies!

I synched up with Robin at the Equestrian access to the River Mountain Loop Trail in Henderson. I was a bit early and was amazed at all of the people up before 6:00 AM heading out to ride. We rode an out and back counterclockwise on the trail. It took us past the Railroad Pass Casino and all the way to the Veteran's home. We stopped there and used that as our landmark for later mapping to figure out how far we'd gone as neither of us had a GPS or bike computer.

I later put it into and here is what I got:

It was an great time for 3 reasons. First it was great seeing new scenery and spreading my wings beyond the confines of my neighborhood training loop. Second it was awesome riding with someone else as it helped distract you with conversation. Third it was feeling connected to a larger community through the other riders.

I enjoyed it so much, I am planning a ride in my head which goes from the same starting point at equestrian, through Boulder City and down to the visitor center at Lake Mead where it intersects the Railroad Tunnels Trail. Then turn around and head back. I haven't mapped it yet to figure out the distance, but I know it will be a challenge. One great thing will be that the climb up from the visitor's center will be part of the route for Pumpkinman in October.

Hmm... a Labor day weekend ride sounds really good! Anyone want to do it?